While the Ohio History Connection boasts a multitude of outstanding exhibits, I think the W.P. Snyder Jr. in Marietta is in a class all by itself. W.P. Snyder Jr. is the last intact steam-powered, sternwheel towboat in the United States as well as the prize exhibit of the Ohio River Museum. Permanently docked near the place where the Muskingum River joins the Ohio River, W.P. Snyder Jr. is also a National Historic Landmark, and at 342 tons and 175-feet-long, it might well be the biggest object in any of the Ohio History Connection’s statewide museums.
Marietta is an ideal location for such a distinguished vessel. The site of the first organized settlement and first seat of government in the Northwest Territory, Marietta began in 1788 with a group of 48 pioneers who arrived via the Ohio River. Today the Ohio River Museum explores the river’s importance to western migration, while its nearby sister institution – the Campus Martius Museum – focuses on the town’s rich history.
The Ohio River Museum boasts a unique design consisting of three buildings constructed on piers anchored in a riverbank Building One highlights the river’s natural history and Building Three features Marietta’s once-thriving boat building industry,but Building Two is all about river transportation and steam-powered riverboats like the W.P. Snyder Jr.
Built in Pittsburgh in 1918, the W.P. Snyder Jr. was originally named the W.H Clingerman and spent 37 years moving barges loaded with coal, iron ore, and steel products on the Ohio River and its tributaries. After being retired and replaced by a diesel-powered towboat, it was donated to the Ohio Historical Society (the forerunner of the Ohio History Connection) in 1955.
Outside the Ohio River Museum, you’ll descend a set of steps on the riverbank and cross a gangplank to board the W.P. Snyder Jr., where a knowledgeable escort will take you through the towboat.
Although its superstructure is made of wood, W.P. Snyder Jr. was one of the first steel hull towboats and still has much of its original equipment, controls, and fittings. You’ll even see examples of the engine room’s bells.
Tip: Since the W.P. Snyder Jr. turns 100 this year, the Ohio River Museum is celebrating with a community picnic, entertainment, and other activities on September 15.
For more Ohio history, Find It Here at Ohio.org.